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Comments on the Aythya photographed at Benbrook Lake, near Fort Worth, Texas on November 19, 1999; all comments originally made in response to a web page I created in November 1999, with fewer images and darker scans. Update August 3, 2000: Dr. Bernard Zonfrillo has commented to me that this bird would easily pass for a Tufted Duck, based upon the hundreds of birds he sees in Glasgow, Scotland; he has sent a good number of photos. I checked my original photos of this bird and re-scanned some images (to better match the original prints, and now using a 17" monitor) and added some new images to the main page:

From North American birders:
"I took a quick look at the photos on the web. They appeared somewhat blurry,
possibly due in part to the wonders of AOL, which I will soon dump. Anyway, the bill pattern and limited white on face do make me think of a scaup X Tufted Duck. I'd think a RNDU X Scaup would have more white around the base of the bill and paler auriculars. I spend a lot of time looking for Tufties. Several times a year I will find a female-type
Lesser Scaup with distinctly contrasting pale undertail coverts. I always look more closely at these birds. Once, it turned out to be a scaup X Tufty hybrid. Also, Tufted (from my understanding) usually, but not always, have this more limited white on face. I frequently see Lesser Scaup with very limited white on face. Sooo, lots of white on face- very probably not a Tufted. Little white on face- fairly meaningless. In my opinion anyway."

"I took a quick peek at the aythya and couldn't do much with it. It didn't look quite right for anything. Is that a cop out? Sorry- I just couldn't do anything with it."

From European birders:

"Doesn't look especially good for Tufted Duck to me, but on these pics alone
nor does it for Scaup, Lesser Scaup or duff Ring-necked... Did you see the
wing-bar? Perhaps a horrid hybrid? As you say, hopefully it will remain for additional scrutiny (and better photos?) Not sure what the pale at the bill-base is and the bill looks very big. I really wouldn't like to stick my neck out yet!"

"Took a very quick look at your female duck pictures. While in no way a
'duckophile', I am not convinced it is a Tufted. I agree the black bill tip is rather restricted also, perhaps too much so for Tufted? Likewise, the forehead doesn't look steep enough and seems more Scaup-like. It is hard to make out the 'tuft' in the scans. Presumably the tuft grows as birds molt from juvenile to first-basic plumage? So it is possible it is a bird of the year? I would certainly expect adult females to have a much more obvious tuft by now. "

"I had a quick look at your Aythya-duck, it sure looks strange. I see thousands of Tufted ducks every year in Norway, I have a flock of 400 wintering just around the corner. I check them over and over again, hoping to find a Ring-necked or a Lesser Scaup, so far without luck. I have never seen anything like your bird. The head and bill (too long, too much hook-billed) shape seems all wrong for tufted, I think you are dealing with a hybrid. The head of a tufted duck typically has a steeper forehead, with the highest point shifted to the front, compared to other Aythya species. I agree that it seems to have little black on the bill nail. It could very well be a hybrid with tufted as one of the parent species, my guess for the other parent based on the long bill will then be Greater Scaup (or possibly Ring-necked duck). Female hybrids are tricky indeed, but hybrids are not that rare at all. In Norway I have seen hybrid tufted x greater scaup, tufted x pochard and tufted x ring-necked duck. But, I can confirm that tufted ducks are extremely variable, especially concerning the shape and extent of the white patch at the base of the bill. "

"I do not think the Aythya-duck is a Tufted Duck. My guess would be that it is a hybrid of a Scaup with possibly a Ring-necked Duck. Some points:
-head shape: correct for Tufted Duck.
-bill: too large for Tufted Duck, reminds me of Scaup. The coloring of
the bill is wrong for Scaup and Tufted Duck, and is so contrasting, that
it reminds me of Ring-necked Duck.
-the body seems to be rather large, reminding of Scaup.
-is there really a white patch at the upper breast? None of the
Aythya-ducks have this, so this is another indication of the hybrid
origin of this duck.
-flanks: the washed-out blotchy coloration and the messy rear flank
feathering (not sharply demarcated) shown by this duck are a feature I
have seen on several Aythya-hybrids.
-vermiculations are never shown by Tufted Ducks. (note: this was a transcription error of my part - there were no vermiculations on this bird but instead pale fringes - Martin Reid)
The extent of the white patch at the base of the bill is a well-known identification feature for separating female/immature Scaup from Tufted Duck. In Scaup, this white patch is usually more extensive, and extending further downwards (under/around the bill), than in Tufted Duck. But both species are very variable regarding this feature. I don't think I have ever read percentages of Tufted Ducks that have white patches near the bill (or on the undertail). I think the same variable situation occurs as in (Lesser) Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks and many other Aythya-ducks. In general, aging and sexing of Tufted Ducks is quite difficult, only a few specialists know how to distinguish an adult female Tufted Duck from an immature or an eclipse male plumage. For picking out a vagrant Aythya-duck, head form and bill tip pattern are most useful. Back to the white patch near the bill: On most Tufted Ducks that show a white patch, the patch is above the gape only. If the white patch includes the gape, then it is usually quite thin below the gape/bill on Tufted Ducks, whereas on Scaups, the portion of the white patch that extends below the gape seems to be thicker/more substantial. Only some 10 percent (or less) of the Tufted Ducks show white patches that are extensive enough to resemble a typical Scaup."

"Just by chance I have noticed that three out ot 4 female Lesser Scaups I have looked at closely recently had white on on the undertail coverts. I happened to notice this while casually searching for a female Tufted Duck locally recently. Incidentally, it's my recollection that many Tufted Ducks don't show white UTC. After all, aren't obvious white UTC a useful mark for helping find Ferruginous Ducks? It's possible that the white on the UTC of Lesser Scaup are more restricted than that of many Tufted Ducks."

KEEP IN MIND that the above comments were made back in 1999 with only about half of the photos scanned, and I was using a different-sized monitor, which affects the degree of contrast seen when viewing on a a monitor that is not the same size as that used by the image- preparer; the latest images were made using a 17" monitor.